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What Do Copyright and Trademark Symbols Mean?

What Do Copyright and Trademark Symbols Mean?

You may have seen the circle "C" copyright symbol on artist copyright symbol appearing in works such as TV shows, websites and books. This symbol, the letter 'c' with a circle around, encapsulates the principles of intellectual property law and how you are protected by using it. 

But what is the copyright symbol?

A copyright symbol, which is also referred to as a copyright notice in the USA, is an identifying symbol that informs the public that someone has ownership over that particular work. 

The symbol came into everyday use by the 1952 Universal Copyright Convention which states that, along with the ©, a copyright notice must contain the name of the owner and the year the original work was published or produced. 

In the USA, since March 1, 1989, the Copyright Act removed the requirement for copyright notices. Which meant that creators of materials do not have to put a copyright sign or notice on their work because they are protected by copyright law. Yet, some creators still put the copyright mark or copyright notice even if their works have been recent to further safeguard their legal rights and as a deterrent against potential thieves.

How Copyright Works

Copyright gives someone the exclusive right to distribute artistic work for a certain amount of time. 

According to the Copyright Act of 1976, the owner of a copyright is granted six exclusive rights to deal with the copyright works:

  • To reproduce the work;
  • To distribute the work;
  • To create derivative works;
  • To publicly perform the work;
  • To publicly display the work; and
  • To publicly perform sound recordings utilising digital audio transmission.

Copyright and Trademark Symbols

To recap the copyright symbol is applicable from the moment an eligible work is created (©), unlike trademarks, whereas there are different rights depending on the status of the trademark, there is a symbol for registered trademarks (®) and a logo for unregistered trademarks (™).

To qualify for the use of the registered trademark symbol (®), you must register your trademark with the appropriate authority in your country. In contrast, the trademark symbol (™) can be applied to any logo you are using as a trademark. 

You can place the copyright symbol on any original piece of work you have created. While it has generally been a requirement in some jurisdictions to include a copyright notice on work to be able to claim copyright over it, it is not legally required but failing to do so can affect the damages you may be able to claim if anyone infringes your copyright.

Copyright Infringement and the Law

The unauthorised use of copyrighted work can lead to lawsuits. Certain exceptions allow the limited use of a copyrighted work for study, criticism and other purposes. These rules are collectively known as "fair use" rules and are one of the only defences to a copyright infringement claim.

Copyright Notices

As discussed before copyright notices will often state the owner of the copyright and the year the work was created. Copyright Notices can be useful for copyright owners who may wish to license their work, thereby letting others use it, potentially for a fee. 

TM symbol

Trademarks, use similar symbols when noting the intellectual property such as the registered trademark symbol, which is a capital "R" in a circle. That indicates the trademark has been registered with the relevant authority in that country. Some may be labelled with the trademark symbol "TM," which generally means the trademark is not yet registered.


Patented inventions are often labelled with their patent number, which is a unique serial number assigned when a patent is granted by the relevant authority. If a patent has been applied for but hasn't been granted yet, the patent is usually accompanied with the phrase "patent pending." Anyone found to be using a patented invention without permission of the owner can also face legal penalties. 

Consult a lawyer for advice on intellectual property and how it affects you if you need to do so.


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